Global markets sink as U.S. Senate fails to deliver coronavirus rescue package

March 23, 2020, 9:57 AM UTC

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We’re back in the red this morning. And there promises to be plenty of fireworks shortly after the opening bell in the U.S.

Let’s take a spin around the globe to see what’s moving markets.

Markets update

We begin in Asia where, with the exception of Japan’s Nikkei, all major indices are trading down this morning as India plans an unprecedented lockdown and Hong Kong seeks a ban of non-resident arrivals. But businesses there are at least beginning to give updates on the road to recovery, which is some progress. Yum China, which operates Pizza Hut and KFC, told Bloomberg TV that the “bulk” of its restaurants are now open in China. Still, it cautioned, a full comeback will take some time.

In Europe, the focus is on COVID-19 outbreak numbers as the death toll climbed yet again over the weekend in Spain and Italy, and Germany’s Angela Merkel is now in precautionary isolation after her doctor tested positive. The European bourses slumped at the open with Germany and the U.K. down more than 4%; AirBus and Royal Dutch Shell were among the big losers.


All eyes are on Washington D.C. after the U.S. Senate on Sunday night failed to ratify a coronavirus stimulus plan. The news tanked U.S. futures with the S&P 500 touching limit down before bouncing off those lows. They reconvene at noon.

It’s not just paralysis on Capitol Hill that’s spooking the markets. Analysts continue to run the numbers on recession forecasts, and the figures seem to get worse by the day. Morgan Stanley says it sees a 30.1% contraction in Q2, and 12.8% unemployment handle. Saint Louis Fed President, meanwhile, goes even lower. He says unemployment could hit 30% in Q2, and GDP could tumble by 50% if Washington fails to deliver.


The inaction in D.C. so far is sinking Brent crude, pushing it to a 17-year-low this morning. The dollar is flat, but holding on to last week’s historic gains.


With the global economy nearly shut down, everything’s hanging on lawmakers to push out trillions in stimulus measures to keep the laid-off and furloughed from losing their homes, and businesses from going insolvent. This is a very different bailout story from what we saw in 2008-2009. This time around, the aim is to get money into the hands of millions of consumers, rather than a few strategic industry sectors.

Until we see the details of these plans, analysts and economists are running range-bound forecasts that include a best-case and worst-case. One such forecast that jolted the markets came from Goldman Sachs on Friday. I plugged Goldman’s headline figures into today’s chart.


How bad will 2020 get?

Goldman sees a historically bad first half that puts the U.S. economy into a recession. That’s the bad news. The good? Things will improve dramatically in Q3 and Q4, but we’re still looking at a 3.8% GDP decline year-on-year. But again this is premature.

Until we see what Washington, Berlin and Rome can deliver, there’s almost no way to call a floor on global trade, or on these markets.


In any crisis of this magnitude, there are always heroes and villains. On this weekend we had the impressive story of Siare Engineering, a small Italian firm that’s been working round the clock (and at cost) to make ventilators. The company has completely transformed its business, at no small cost, to keep its fellow countrymen alive. Please take a moment to read it.

Another heroic group are the doctors, nurses and hospital workers on the front lines, battling to keep people alive. They too have been working round the clock. And, sadly, many of them are succumbing to the virus. Of the more than 5,000 deaths in Italy, more than a dozen are doctors, the Italian media has reported.

And so the Italian government put out the call in recent days looking for 300 medical professionals to join the fight, and give the exhausted crews a break. The plea has been broadcasted on TV and radio for days. The result? Over 7,900 took up the call, including a team from Cuba. They got a hero’s welcome when they arrived in Milan this weekend.


Bernhard Warner

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Today's reads

A Wall Street first. You may notice something amiss today when you tune into markets coverage in the U.S. There will be no shots of traders (or journalists) on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as the Wall Street institution will be shutting its doors today for who-knows-how-long. The culprit? Yes, coronavirus. The NYSE assures the closure won't impact investors, but there are still a few things you should know about the disruption—and Erik Sherman is on the scene to explain what it all means

King dollar. The dollar last week had its best week since 2008, the last time the world went through this kind of tumult. As Adrian Croft details in Fortune, the U.S. dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of other currencies, has risen 8% in the last 11 days, hitting a three-year high. Strong dollar has huge implications on global trade and is a major headwind for multinationals. It's the last thing the global economy needs right now.

WeWork, we fight. The last time we checked in on the saga of the shared office space startup WeWork, its biggest backer, SoftBank, was getting cold feet over a $3 billion bailout plan. The clash is escalating now, the Wall Street Journal reports, with the WeWork board vowing to fight for every penny. This could get ugly fast. But SoftBank shareholders are delighted. Shares in the Japanese conglomerate are up nearly 20% today—a plan to sell $41 billion worth of assets is also lifting shares.

Market candy

Trillion-dollar coin

Make that two. In the past decade, the argument to mint a platinum coin valued at $1 trillion has been floated to get the country out of various financial messes—usually, debt ceiling fights. The background: Congress has the legal authority to order the creation of such a special coin to raise needed funds for emergency purposes. The pros: no need to raise the debt limit to do so. The cons: cue The Simpsons memes. Undaunted, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is proposing a plan in which the U.S. Mint makes two $1 trillion platinum coins which would then pay for any coronavirus relief bill. It's not getting much love on Capitol Hill, but Bitcoin fans are all over the idea on Twitter.

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